January 12 — Making Debuts & the Almost-Star Team

Yesterday’s NHL Scores

Last Night’s News 📰

THE PERFECT HIRE: On Tuesday, Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman announced that long-time teammate, Nicklas Lidström, is joining the Wings as vice president of hockey operations. Lidström returns to Detroit after spending his 20-year career in the Motor City and will be involved in all hockey decisions for the Wings.

IMMEDIATE RETURNS: Tuesday night saw two key players who recently returned from injury instantly impact their respective lineups. Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin recorded two goals and an assist in his debut after having knee surgery on June 4 in the Penguins’ 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, while Nikita Kucherov notched his fourth career hat trick in his third game back to help the Tampa Bay Lightning defeat the Buffalo Sabres, 6-1. 

EXTRA HOCKEY!: Three games required the overtime period last night, as Colorado vs Nashville, as well as Detroit vs San Jose, needed overtime, while Toronto vs Vegas headed to a shootout. Nashville was gifted a questionable power play in the extra frame and made the Avalanche pay on a Matt Duchene tally. Logan Couture helped the Sharks improve to 6-0 in overtime this season, notching the game-winner off a Brent Burns shot from the left circle. Auston Matthews scored his fifth goal in five games, and William Nylander sealed the deal in the shootout as the Maple Leafs defeated the Golden Knights, 4-3. 

CRASHING CANUCKS: In their second game of 2022, and first since Jan. 1, the Vancouver Canucks lost their first game in regulation under head coach Bruce Boudreau. Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad led the Florida Panthers with three points each, while J.T. Miller’s nine-game point streak ended for the Canucks. 

CHICAGO DeBLACKHAWKS: Alex DeBrincat had two goals, while Calvin de Haan added his first in almost a full calendar year to give the Chicago Blackhawks a 4-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Patrick Kane increased his point streak to five games with an assist on the evening, as the Blackhawks have now won seven straight in Columbus. 

Wild Card Wednesday

Eastern Conference

Last Week: Pittsburgh Penguins & Boston Bruins

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at the hands of the Dallas Stars, unable to make it 11 in a row thanks to Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski scoring 75 seconds apart late in the third period. The bad news didn’t last long in the Steel City, as Evgeni Malkin returned to the lineup and scored two goals in a win against the Anaheim Ducks. 

Boston Bruins: Currently four points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings with 40 points, Bruce Cassidy’s team has begun 2022 on a high note, winning five of their last six games. Like the Penguins, a key member of Boston’s team is returning. Goaltender Tuukka Rask officially signed a one-year deal and is back with his team. 

Team to Watch: Detroit Red Wings

Western Conference

Last Week: Colorado Avalanche & Edmonton Oilers

Minnesota Wild: The Wild are trending, but not in the right direction. In all fairness, their schedule has been hectic, with seven games postponed since Dec. 14. They lost five in a row before earning consecutive victories against the Bruins and Washington Capitals. Like most teams, Minnesota has been battling COVID and injuries. Currently, they are without Jared Spurgeon, Joel Eriksson Ek, Cam Talbot, and Nick Bjugstad.

San Jose Sharks: With a late-night win against the Red Wings, the Sharks jumped into the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Sharks were in the headlines this week as they terminated the contract of Evander Kane, who was the team’s point leader last season. San Jose begins a new calendar year with a 3-2-0 record and will need to remain in the win column if they want to keep the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers at bay.

Team to Watch: Edmonton Oilers

Mid-Season Boosters

As we approach the halfway point of the NHL season, three key players who have yet to appear this year are nearing their season debuts. Although all three players will be returning from offseason surgery, they have all established themselves as difference-makers when healthy and on the ice.

Jack Eichel

The 25-year-old center, who was traded from the Buffalo Sabres to the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 4, skated with the team yesterday for the first time since having artificial disk replacement surgery on Nov. 12. In 21 games last season before suffering a herniated disk in his neck, Eichel tallied two goals and 16 assists for Buffalo. Picked second overall in the 2015 Draft, the Massachusetts native turned into a star for the Sabres but requested a trade after disagreeing with the team over what procedure he should have to fix the herniated disk.

Jack Eichel, last seen in a Sabres sweater, is progressing toward playing his first game with the Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Eichel aims to make his Vegas debut in mid-February, joining a talented team in first place in the Pacific Division and likely will center one of the top two lines for the Golden Knights. After five losing seasons in Buffalo, it will be his first experience playing for a postseason contender. He will also help soften the blow of losing forward Max Pacioretty, who is out indefinitely following wrist surgery on Dec. 30.

Tukka Rask

Officially signing a one-year contract with the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, the 34-year-old goaltender had technically been an unrestricted free agent following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip last July but was working out in the Bruins facility with the anticipation of returning. Rask, Boston’s all-time leader in wins (306), signed a tryout contract with the Providence Bruins (Boston’s AHL affiliate) on Jan. 6 with the hope of getting a couple of minor league games under his belt before returning to the NHL. However, after two games were postponed due to COVID-19 this week, he was released from the contract on Tuesday.

Tukka Rask has rejoined the Bruins roster and is close to making his 2021-22 debut (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Rask will serve as the backup tonight against the Montreal Canadiens and could make his season debut as early as Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. In 24 games last season, he posted a 2.28 goals-against average (GAA) and .913 save percentage (SV%) for Boston. This season, the Bruins have used a combination of Linus Ullmark (11-5-0, 2.57 GAA, .917 SV% in 16 games) and Jeremy Swayman (8-6-2, 2.26 GAA, .918 SV% in 16 games) in goal. Though the two have performed admirably, the return of the veteran Rask could be a boost to a team that currently occupies the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Evgeni Malkin

Pittsburgh’s 35-year-old center is much further in the rehab process than the other two, making his season debut last night. He wasted no time returning to form, recording two goals and one assist in a 4-1 win over the Anaheim DucksThe skilled playmaker, who has played all 15 of his NHL seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, had knee surgery on June 4. Malkin should provide an offensive boost to the Penguins as they push for a playoff spot. In 33 games for Pittsburgh last season, he had eight goals and 20 assists, in addition to a goal and four assists in four playoff games. 

Evgeni Malkin played his first game of the season last night in Anaheim (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Malkin expressed a desire to play several more seasons in the NHL as the main reason for going under the knife last June. He currently ranks in the top four in Penguins franchise history in games, points, assists, and goals and is in the final year of a seven-year contract with Pittsburgh.

Hey! What About Us?

On Thursday, the NHL will announce the 11-man All-Star teams for each division ahead of All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas on Feb. 4 and 5. For those who love seeing all the big names in one place, it’s fair to expect—COVID aside—a good number of the sport’s biggest stars to be present.

Before we get too excited about finding another reason to celebrate Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Alex Ovechkin, how about a nod to those who are enjoying a stellar 2021-22 campaign out of the spotlight? While the mid-season exhibition is undoubtedly a way to highlight the game’s best and brightest, it also presents an opportunity to laud the production of other top performers who don’t necessarily get the SportsCenter treatment every night.

Ahead of the All-Star announcement tomorrow, let’s take a moment to show some love for these players paying dividends for their team while remaining under the radar:

Timo Meier – San Jose Sharks

Timo Meier, San Jose Sharks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If we’re being honest here, most of us still associate the San Jose Sharks with a group of aging veterans past their “best before” date. But while Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and Erik Karlsson are all on the wrong side of 30, the team’s identity is slowly shifting. In the middle of that is 25-year-old Swiss forward Timo Meier, who leads the Sharks in scoring and is ahead of NHL All-Star favorites Matthews, Brad Marchand, and Nathan MacKinnon.

Oliver Bjorkstrand – Columbus Blue Jackets

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As a member of, perhaps, the league’s most anonymous organization, it’s no surprise that Columbus Blue Jackets winger Oliver Bjorkstrand doesn’t draw many national headlines. The one-time Western Hockey League 63-goal scorer appears to be taking another leap forward this season, having already amassed 25 points in 32 games after topping out at a career-high 44 points last season.

Tristan Jarry – Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t exactly known for flying under the radar, so it’s somewhat surprising to see their starting goalie Tristan Jarry land here. But with Sidney Crosby missing time due to a wrist injury and COVID and Evgeni Malkin losing the first portion of the season on account of knee surgery, it’s been Jarry who has kept the Pens afloat in the Metropolitan Division. The 26-year-old is quietly piecing together a Vezina-caliber season—ranking near the top in wins, save percentage, and goals-against average.

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